Getting kids to write thank you notes can be challenging, to put it mildly. Most children don’t give a hoot about etiquette, especially when it involves doing something that smells an awful lot like homework. All in all, they’d much rather be playing with their shiny new birthday or Christmas presents rather than expressing gratitude for them.
Still, most parents understand the importance of this custom. It forces kids to recognize that gifts and other acts of kindness aren’t their birthright. And, even if some of us would rather dispense with this ritual ourselves, there are plenty of other people (we’re looking at you, Grandma) for whom it is still important. Finally, many people genuinely want to feel appreciated and know that their gift was well-received.
In short, writing thank you notes is just good manners.
Helping Kids Write Thank You Notes
Unfortunately, you can’t just put a stack of blank thank you cards in front of a kid and say “Go to it!” Most kids need some assistance, whether it’s doing the actual writing, setting guidelines, or just being there when questions come up. The key is to offer just enough help to get the job done, without taking over completely.
Here are some different levels of involvement to consider. The older your child is, the less you generally need to do. That said, your kid’s personality, mood, and the amount of work to be done are all big factors as well.
Level 4: You do the writing, your child does the scribbling
If your child can’t write, then the burden of writing thank you notes obviously falls to you. Your child can participate in other ways, such as by drawing a picture or putting stickers on the note.
One question that often comes up is whether you should write the thank you note from your kid’s perspective (“I really like the toy you gave me…”) or your own (“Evan really likes the toy you gave him…”). As a rule of thumb, write the note from your child’s perspective if it’s addressed to another child. Write from your own perspective if the note is going to another adult, such as a daycare provider.
Level 3: You do the writing with input from your child
Once they can articulate their thoughts, you can get input on what to write on the thank you note. This could range from getting their impression of a gift, to transcribing their actual words. At this stage, kids can often write their own names on the note, adding an important personal touch.
Level 2: You coach your child
Even if your child knows how to write complete sentences, they will likely need guidance in figuring out what to say. You might sit down with your child to work through the exact wording of each note, or just help with the first couple. Don’t be surprised if your kid runs out of steam at some point, forcing you to take a break or get more involved (see Level 3).
Level 1: Your child does the writing, you supervise
Eventually the day will come with your child doesn’t need your active involvement in writing the notes. You may still want to look at the thank you notes (at least the first few) to make sure your child isn’t just going through the motions. You can also support your child by creating a positive atmosphere. Put on some music, help keep stationary organized, prepare a yummy snack – whatever it takes to make it less of a chore.
General Wording Tips
Here are a few key points to consider when coming up with the actual wording of a thank you note. They apply whether you’re writing the notes yourself or just supervising.
1. Keep it short. Thank you notes don’t have to be long (that’s why they’re called “notes” and not “letters”). Contrary to what some may believe, more words does not equate to more gratitude. Unless the gift or favor is extraordinary, three or four sentences should suffice.
2. Be specific. The problem with many thank you notes is that they come across as canned. The best way to avoid this is to address the person by name, mention the specific gift or favor you’re thanking them for, and leave out those generic statements that tend to creep in when you’re writing a bunch of notes. Of course, it’s a different ballgame if your child is thanking a group of people (such as for birthday wishes).
3. Be sincere. Another way to avoid Canned Thank You Note Syndrome is to make sure the words actually reflect your child’s feelings. This is a lot easier said than done, especially in those tricky cases where your child actually isn’t all that thrilled with what they got. This “teachable moment” is a good opportunity to get your child to think about the effort of the gift-giver rather than focusing on the gift itself.
While you and your child should come up with unique wording for your thank you notes, it never hurts to look at examples for inspiration. With that in mind, here are some sample thank you notes for various situations:
Thanks so much for the Frozen game. I’ve already played it lots with my mom and sister. It’s really fun. Maybe we can have a sleepover at my house sometime and play it together!
Thanks for the stuffed fox and iTunes gift card. How did you know I love foxes? I’m going to use the gift card to buy some cool games and music for my iPad.
Thanks for being our baseball coach this summer. I’ll always remember what you taught us about trying our best and having fun. I hope I get to play for you again someday.
Thanks for the Spiderman action figure. He’s already had many adventures around the house. Maybe you can come over to my house sometime and we can play with him together.
Thanks for the birthday money! I’m saving up for a telescope, and this gets me a lot closer to my goal.
I’m looking forward to seeing you again when we come to visit this summer.
Thank you for the outfit. It’s really comfy and cute. You always pick out nice stuff for me. Mom says she’s jealous.
Bobby thanks you for the toy airplane! When he first saw it, he could hardly wait for us to get it out of the packaging. He’s played with it every day since and refuses to share it with his sister (we need to work on that).
Hope you had a great Christmas! I’m sure we’ll talk soon.
Thanks so much for including Tonya in your Chuck E. Cheese outing. I know it’s not easy keeping track of your own 6-year-old, much less someone else’s. I hope we can return the favor in the near future.